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Marshall: You first met Bob Dylan through a mutual friend, Al Aronowitz. Was this around the time of Dylan’s 1965 concert in New York City (August 28, Forest Hills Tennis Stadium)?
Ross: I think so, probably, at least within a year of that concert.
Marshall: Around that same time period, what was your recollection of all the Dylan-Goes-Electric hubbub?
Ross: It’s ridiculous. It’s difficult for me to comprehend, not just then, but even now, at so many different other levels. It’s amazing the things that people deem important. Who cares, honestly, who cares? The guy plays music. If he wants to change his sound, whom is he playing for? If you look at it as an artist, as a person, if you write certain kinds of music or use styles, lyrical content, rhythms, or whatever, it’s an extension of who you are. That’s how it was for Bob. And if any real artist, whether it’s a painter or a writer or author, that’s who they are, that’s what they do. Critics and the public. . . you know Scripture says, 'When all men speak well of you, beware.' I see all that fandom and I’ve seen a lot of it, been around a lot of it. It’s next to irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. I’m speaking for myself, and I don’t want to project anything on to Bob, but you write out of who you are. If people like it, fine. If they don’t like it, fine. It doesn’t really matter. I saw all that criticism as a lot of foolishness, and I still do.
Marshall: In 1970, you had an interesting experience involving Al Aronowitz, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton?
Ross: Al was a writer for New York Post, Life magazine, Village Voice, he’s a freelancer, a very good writer. He’s still around. He now has many of his writings posted on the internet. He calls himself The Blacklisted Journalist. I’ve known Al for many years, and somehow we hooked up in New York City. This was after my conversion to Christ. Al knew me when we did drugs together, which is not a secret, that fact is published as well. But we hooked up to go to a Clapton concert in New York. I’d known Eric for a short period of time, and we went to the concert. This was at the Filmore East in New York City, Bill Graham sponsored it. At intermission, Al said, 'Let’s go see somebody, an old friend.' I said, 'Okay.' So we went up the back stairwell to a box seat and walked into this box seat area and this guy came up and said, 'Hey Al,' and gave Al a hug, then he said, 'Hello Scott.' It was Dylan, he was there watching Clapton. No one knew he was there, he was with a friend or something.
After the concert we got into Al’s car, and 'we' being Dylan, Clapton, Al and me, started riding around and talking. And Bobby (Dylan) said to me, 'I haven’t seen you in a long time, how are you doing?' He also said, 'Hey, Al, I haven’t seen Scott.' And he started telling Al what I was doing, about the 'Love Inn Ministry' in a barn in Freeville, New York, and The Scott Ross Radio Show, which was nationally and internationally syndicated on rock and roll radio stations. So Dylan’s reciting a litany of things that have been going on in my life, and then, it’s kind of funny, he said, 'Do you have any water up there, Scott? Do you have a pond or a lake or anything to go fishing?' I said, 'Yes, we do, actually.' We had a pond. He knew a lot about what I’d been up to. I had no idea how he found out. Well, some things had been published in the Village Voice and so forth, so he probably read it or just heard it by word of mouth. And so he talked about that. He asked me what happened, because I had done drugs with Dylan. That’s recited in my book Scott Free, about the first night I did marijuana, which was with Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Robbie Robertson of The Band, the night the lights went out in New York. This was 35 years ago. Dylan and I had also done drugs together on several occasions, so he knew of my drug episodes.
As a matter of fact, you mentioned earlier that Forest Hills concert. We went back to an apartment of one of Dylan’s friend’s in New York, it was his manager, Al Grossman. He’s dead now. But we went back to Al Grossman’s apartment and did dope there. So, Bob and I had experiences together. So anyway, he asked me, 'What happened to you?' So, I started to tell him the story about what happened with the Lord in my life. And he was most intrigued, asked a lot of questions. It was a good conversation. A lot of our earlier conversations in my pre-Jesus days were so spacey. We got into some weird, esoteric, you know, ozone-level kinds of things. Who knew what we were saying. We thought we were intelligent and profound and deep, when actually it was lot of gobbledygook, and there were still things we were reaching for. So, I think what he was hearing in me was something pretty clear, that I had come to some realization of truth that he was intrigued by. At that point, I don’t think he called that truth, 'Jesus,' but he was certainly interested. God certainly came into the conversation and I was clear that my conversion was to Christ. Dylan had so many questions. Al was driving the car, Al’s Jewish, and Clapton was there. This was about 1970.
Subsequent to that car ride and conversation, Eric made a commitment to the Lord. So there were things going on, and without me trying to make something out of it that it isn’t, something in the conversation had to plant some seeds in Eric. It’s just very interesting. I don’t know how long we rode around and talked, but then Dylan made mention of an album he had just completed, which was the New Morning album, and I didn’t know what it was (at the time). And he said, 'Well, wait a minute,' so he told Al to drive around to his apartment in the village. I don’t know if it was his apartment or somebody else’s apartment, it was a townhouse or something. We drove around to that place and sat in the car and waited while Bobby ran upstairs. He came down with the album, which I still have, and he said, 'Listen to it. There’s a couple things on there about God.' And sure enough, there were some things in there and they were pretty clear, you know? So, I just kept praying for him. So, that was pretty much the experience.
Marshall: Singer/songwriter Larry Norman is a big Dylan fan. You mentioned that the both of you recently attended a Dylan concert in Nashville, Tennessee (February 6, 1999). How do you know Larry Norman?
Ross: I’m trying to remember, I don’t know where we first hooked up. This was in the early days in the Jesus movement, you know, in the early 1970s. I had the radio show, I would play Larry’s records and it may be that we just contacted him to do an interview because he was out on the edge. A very good writer, good lyricist, you know, a good tunesmith. I think that’s what it was, we contacted him to do an interview for my radio show and then I believe I invited him to come to my then-named ministry, Love Inn -- still going strong after all these years.
Marshall: In 1970, Dylan knew about this Love Inn ministry that you and your wife began in New York. Tell me a little about it.
Ross: It’s now known as Covenant Love Community Church in Freeville, New York, next to Cornell University. That’s where we were in an old barn. And we used to do concerts and I think I invited Larry for a concert. We talked on the phone, did the interview thing and some other things and then we just hit it off. Then Larry and I traveled together, we did some shows together, and we’d go out and do concerts. We walked into bars, cold off the street and did presentations. Of course he’d sing and I’d do poetic dramatic presentations and talk. We did larger concerts with thousands of people. I remember doing something in Toronto, Canada; Rochester, New York. We’ve been friends for a long, long time and I hadn’t seen him in quite a number of years until that (Dylan) concert a year ago.
Marshall: I wanted to go back to something you mentioned earlier. You said Eric Clapton had a conversion experience some years ago. Was this something you heard through others, or was it contact you had with him?
Ross: No, he told me personally. Nedra and I had a call one night, completely out of the blue, and if I remember correctly, it was from Minneapolis, Minnesota. My radio show was on in Minneapolis, among other cities, and Eric was doing a concert. This was early ‘70s, and I don’t know the exact date, my wife may remember, maybe it was ’71 or ’72, somewhere in there, and just out of the blue he called. He knew Nedra from her Ronettes days. They had toured together, and he called to tell us of his conversion to Christ. So we talked about it on the phone and then he said he wanted to get together with us. So we got together, and I spent time with him and prayed and talked with him. His was a real conversion to Jesus. A lot of stuff happened in years that followed, and I’m personally convinced that the enemy has tried to kill him throughout the years. Hendrix died, Clapton didn’t. And there’s a whole story behind that I won’t go into, but, that was a very real conversion, and I still pray for Eric, care about him a great deal. He’s a really good guy and he’s been through hell, but I believe God’s kept him. I really believe that.
Marshall: You mentioned Jimi Hendrix. His version of Dylan’s 'All Along the Watchtower' is the one you always hear on the radio. It’s interesting that it’s Dylan’s most-performed song onstage. I read somewhere that you spent time with Hendrix. Can you share your experience?
Ross: He was a backup guitarist for my wife’s group, The Ronettes, for a period of time. The name he was using at that time was Jimi James. I also worked at a nightclub in New York called 'Ondine,' it was a disco, and Jimi would come in there and hang out. Dylan came in there too. It was a well-known club, small place, but it was an 'in' place for a while. And while I was involved with the club, Jimi would come in and play. Dylan would sit there and we’d talk. Hendrix was always quite a good guitar player, obviously, and he was a great performer. People would come to see him. I remember vividly the first time I’d seen him play. I think it was at the Odine actually. A small, small club of a few hundred people, and he started playing something, picking some things with his teeth, on the guitar, I remember that. We talked, he was just around. I was also good friends with The Animals. One night, Charles Chandler who had been The Animals’ bass player went down to the village to hear Jimi play in the club and was completely blown away by what he saw and heard. I remember Chas coming back and talking to me about it. I wasn’t the only one he talked to, but he said to me that he had seen Hendrix, and I probably said, 'Who’s Hendrix?' because I was still thinking Jimi James and he was now using the Hendrix name. Chas was completely blown out by this guy.
Marshall: Dylan-wise, is there any question I should have asked?
Ross: Pray for him, just keep praying for him. You can get into a whole theological discussion about people like Bob, Eric and others who have made commitments to the Lord over the years, and there are others that I am well aware of, (who do not seem to have lived up to those commitments.) Then there are some who have made such commitments and grown and matured in the Lord. People like, Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, who is a close friend. Noel has called me his personal John the Baptist. Also there’s Dion DiMucci, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, these guys are public people who made commitments to the Lord from that same era and have gone on in God. All these folks need a lot of prayer. They need that more than they need idolization, and people hoping that they would just grow in God. Now if the Lord Jesus, in His grace, in His sovereignty, chose these folks and gave them new birth, and if they chose Jesus, then you have to trust the seed that God planted no matter what appears to be the outcome. Some fall away. When I talked to Dion years ago when he was seeking God through drugs and various other kinds of things, and I said, 'Dion, ask God if He has a Son.' So when he was out running one day, he asked God that very question. And the Lord made it very clear to him that Jesus Christ was the son of God and Dion made a commitment. There are people who have made commitments privately, that have not talked about it, and in whose lives we can not yet see the fruit of this commitment, so pray for them.
Scott Ross welcomes your feedback.
Reprinted with permission from the December 2000 issue of Isis.
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